Choudhary Lal Singh floats new political outfit: After PDP, BJP too faces a 'rebellion' of sorts in Jammu
On Sunday, ex-minister in the BJP-PDP coalition government, Singh addressed a gathering of more than a thousand people at Teacher Bhawan auditorium in the Gandhi Nagar area of Jammu
After the Peoples Democratic Party, the BJP too seems to be facing a 'rebellion' of sorts in Jammu and Kashmir with the controversial party MLA and former minister in PDP-BJP coalition government, Choudhary Lal Singh, floating his own political outfit which he says would work for 'Dogra Swabhiman and Sangathan' (Dogra dignity and unity).
On Sunday, Singh addressed a gathering of more than a thousand people at Teacher Bhawan auditorium in the Gandhi Nagar area of Jammu. Addressing the gathering, Singh started his speech with the slogan "Jai Dogra", to which the audience responded with a "Jai Dogra" of its own. He then continued his speech in chaste Dogri for an hour, clamouring for the reclamation of the pride of the Dogras, who ruled the state with an iron hand till the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947.
Singh, 59, a former Congress leader, who joined the BJP before the 2014 Lok Sabha election, said on Monday that he has launched his own outfit with the symbol of a tiger and a goat. Among the top priorities for the BJP MLA from Basohli is the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir and its resources, and that the chief ministership, regardless of which government comes to power, should be rotational for three years between the two culturally distinct regions of the state.
"Yes, it is my own political outfit which will work for the betterment of people of Jammu regardless of religion, caste or creed," said Singh over the phone from Jammu, "But it is an apolitical organisation and will work to reclaim the pride of Dogras of Jammu. We have chalked out 21 points on which we will work in coming days."
Former health and forest minister in the erstwhile PDP-BJP coalition government, Singh was one of the two ministers who were unceremoniously ousted from Mehbooba Mufti's cabinet for addressing a rally in solidarity with the alleged culprits arrested in the brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomad girl. He has also been demanding a CBI probe in the case.
"This organisation will fight against the discrimination meted out to Dogras. This is not a political party. This is purely to wage a fight against the discriminatory politics in our state," he added. While addressing the gathering on Sunday, Singh said the Jammu region had ample resources, and yet lacks development and falls short "in almost everything". "We face maximum shortage of power, when one river alone has the potential to generate 20,000 MW of electricity," he told the gathering.
"The fruits of natural resources of the Jammu province — forests, water, travel, tourism, etc should first be given to the people of Jammu and then to Kashmir," he added. He called for a separate Public Service Commission for Jammu and Kashmir, and came down heavily on the state Crime Branch for carrying out "botched" investigations into the rape and murder of the nomad girl in Rasana village.
For his Congress lineage, Singh has been an eyesore for many state BJP leaders. Party insiders say he has never been accepted as a "BJP leader", but an outsider. The political circles in Jammu are rife with rumours that he might be joined by Vikramaditya Singh, a former PDP MLC who resigned few months ago from party, Congress leader Sham Lal Sharma, former health minister and his brother Madan Lal Sharma, the former Congress MP. For the time being, however, it seems Singh will have to walk alone.
The Jammu and Kashmir BJP had already been wary of Singh's moves for the past few months after he stopped attending party functions and even refused to attend the rally of BJP president Amit Shah in Jammu after the fall of the PDP-BJP government last month. Singh, on one occasion, even refused to exchange greetings with the party state unit president Ravinder Raina when both were touring the border areas recently to meet the victims of Pakistani shelling.
"You can guess which way the wind is blowing and what his intentions are. He might say the outfit is apolitical but it is not," said Avinash Rai Khana, the BJP MLC and senior party, "A report has been sent on Monday to the central leadership about his activities."
But another MLA and senior BJP leader from Jammu, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Singh is directly in talks with Shah and refuses to entertain the state party leadership. "He is so arrogant that he doesn't even answer phone calls from the state party president, saying he is a 'bachcha', who has much to learn before teaching him politics."
The state unit of the BJP has been pressing the central leadership to somehow manage to return to power in the state as it fears the party might lose its electoral base, if not to the Congress, then to any other political outfit which will talk about Jammu and the emotive issues that deliver the votes.
But any coalition government without overt or covert support of the PDP or BJP seems to be impossible at this juncture as PDP is trying to set its house in order and the National Conference is guarding the gates of its MLAs. For the moment, the clamour for the 'third front' in the state seems to be fizzling out with Governor's Rule likely to continue in the state for next few months before President's Rule comes into effect.
Singh is likely to benefit in the prevailing situation as it offers him both the window of time as well as opportunity to manoeuver the political checkerboard in Jammu. Whether he succeeds in his ambitious plan of creating a new political force in Jammu depends a lot on how the BJP performs in the next year's Lok Sabha polls. The wind can blow either way.
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